Leaves are People too

by Nelson Vicens

           ‘He was first spotted at the onset of spring, just as the sun began melting the ice still stuck between stones on the street. At least, “onset of spring” is the earliest any of the rumors can date his initial appearance, for unfortunately, much of the truth of this tale has been lost now to time and become fiction. For example, not too many days ago in my shop, an old man with a loose jaw, limp and a lisp explained his over-developed theory as to how this bizarre gentleman, known only as Larry the Leaf Lover, came into existence.
           “He is NO man! Not of flesh, anyhows. Have you seen his hands? Like leather, and no one’s seen him without that ridiculous top hat- I bet he’s hiding some sort of cabbage growth. I’ve seen his eyes before meself, personally, and I swears they’re softer than grapes, always looking about to burst. Ah, yes, and one of Mr. Rosco’s chocolate bars, thank you, and have you seen his jacket? Made of leaves, I tellya. He is no man, not of flesh, anyhows. Some sort of hellish spawn, I swears. There’ll be more of ‘em before my day has come. Yep. Thank you very much, son, have a nice day. Watch out.”
           Though I consider most of the old man’s ramblings that of an impressively imaginative and deteriorating mind, I do admit its ambiguity and lore quite captures the essence of this most mysterious visitor. Certain facts do remain, however, like that of his arrest and public court case, which the town attended in its entirety. In all my time in Miskatonic, the likes of such a gathering have yet to be matched. Kids were running in the square, their parents too busy fighting others for a better view. People spilled out the courthouse steps and into the street where a tuxedo’d stubby man muscled back and forth, relaying information to the disadvantaged.
           I watched from the park, and was filled in that afternoon.
           Apparently, the man of our musings had a fancy for little boys and girls, watching them from behind bushes in the park. He was brought into custody by a group of angry townsmen who were simply protecting their own, rather physically, so it goes, for in court his face was almost completely covered in white bandages. Only his dark, bloodshot eyes and a slit in the dressing for his tongue to slide out and speak.
           He had seemingly chosen to represent himself, or more likely, no one in town wanted to support him, so he sat alone at his bench, head down, hands in his lap. After the initial proceedings, it became clear there was something peculiar about the man. He did not react in the slightest to the countless insults and harassments the paranoid parents of the town hurled at him, and when it was his turn to answer questions, his only words hence uttered were his oath to tell the truth and the divulgence of his name: Larry.
           He said nothing and remained silent until the town was silent and said nothing and it seemed he was about to be escorted out, when he pulled five leaves from his deformed jacket and stood up, placing them in front of him, on the witness stand, clearly visible for all to see.
           He then proceeded to question the witnesses vigorously, asking them questions such as:
           “In the forty-seven days you have known me, have I ever done anything maliciously?”
           “Remember when I found you, someone stepped on you and I raised you up into the sun?”
           “Have I ever once looked at anything but you?”
           And the interrogation continued, him often pausing mid-sentence as if to listen to one of the mute leaf-witnesses, going so far as to having to corral their conversation, as if the leaves were children unable to sit still and act accordingly. As odd as the sight was, the town seemed to be uniformly intrigued by the oddity before them. They allowed him to make his case through the leaves, until eventually he seemed to be done, having asked a question and stared off into silence for several minutes- but I’m told by some who were closer than others that he was staring deep into the leaves (as if with his eyes any direction could ever truly be distinguished) nodding his head slowly, smiling underneath the bandages, making them moist with his tears.
           Of all the myths and legends, this I choose to believe. It’d be nice to think that he was listening intently to those leaves, overcome with emotion, realizing the immense beauty of truth described by this cognitive piece of nature. Whatever the matter, it’s a shame I’ve never known someone who knew the final question he asked before the men came to restrain and escort him, and he broke into tears in front of everyone.
           They dragged him out of the courtroom and held him in custody until it was unanimously decided he was of no threat to the community, rather, simply a confused man of indeterminate age, left to wander round the park at day and sleep within his stick house in the trees at night. Strangely enough, when they granted him his freedom rather than joy expressed, the man held his leaves (contained within a small brown bag labeled “evidence”) and again, broke into tears. He held them close to his chest like a mother with a still-born, this I witnessed with my own two eyes, as he slowly made his way back to the park and into the foliage once more.
           He remained there amongst his kind for some time, though I never went to check in on him (having never been particularly interested in the affairs of other people) like some of the townsfolk, treating him as a spectacle, some side-show circus drop-out lost and looking for the carnival. I thought- if the man wants to be left in peace, so be it, long as he does no harm and disrupts no peace.
           And so it was for some time.
           In June, he leapt through the fields in joy, without any sense of the world’s burden, as if this was his first and only day on Earth. In July, his home had expanded to multiple trees, and it was said his reach had spread so far as to the Great Oaks outside the Mayor’s mansion, watching the bastard sleep. These claims could never be proven, and most, like myself, consider them paranoid gossip, for the man truly did seem as harmless as the leaves his jacket was made of. In August, the children pointed and laughed as he whispered into the bushes. They nicknamed him Larry the Leaf Lover because he was never without a handful of leaves and some went so far as to speculate they composed his sole diet.
           I heard he once whispered to a most curious child, “Take this leaf, it has chosen you, look closely within these veins, you will find your soul,” though I doubt Larry the Leaf Lover ever strung together so many syllables for another human. He truly was a most peculiar man. He was short and squat, no taller than five foot three, though his top hat provided him an additional foot. His jacket was dirty and worn, made of an ever-changing array of different colored and different shaped leaves. His shoes were mismatched and his pants had holes in them, some of them patched up with a mossy-like fungus. No one spoke to him, and he spoke to no one.
           By the fall, the buzz about Larry the Leaf Lover had risen and fallen like the leaves that were beginning to litter the sidewalks, and this was the beginning of the end for our friend. Overnight, some of the town’s most shaded streets, lying beneath great oaks and red maples, were suddenly completely devoid of strewn leaves. He was seen in the middle of the night, rushing around back-alleys and dark neighborhoods, picking up the leaves with his hands, all the while muttering inconceivable noises to himself. We would hear howling coming from the park at dusk on windy days, and I even once saw him up in a tree staring down at me, panicking, as if I was looking at him through a bathroom window and he had no leaves to hide behind. His previously impenetrable demeanor began to falter, and word of his supposedly anxious behavior spread like wildfire. The people grew worried.
           He was heard screaming one windy afternoon in the park, jumping about, flailing his arms around within a cascade of falling leaves, as if caught in a war against good and evil. The parents in town were once again concerned with the safety of their children, for he would often rush at the brats who pulled branches off trees or stomped and kicked raked piles of leaves.
           He was known to appear out of nowhere from behind a trashcan and yell at innocents. “YOU MONSTER!” “YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF!” “HOW COULD YOU!” he yelled to a man burning leaves on his lawn. “YOU ARE ALL LIVING A LIE!” “WAKE UP TO THE FOREST!” “LEAVES ARE PEOPLE TOO!” were some of the supposed phrases shouted out of his black hole of a mouth before running off into the street, turning behind a building and out of sight. Enough was enough.
           The townspeople came to me, for at the time I was head of what you might call the “Neighborhood Watch”, only we called it “Citizen Surveillance”. Every month, a new leader was voted upon, and the “winner” would “volunteer” to accept the role until his replacement was chosen. I (being an upstanding store owner for more than a decade and a generally agreeable fellow to a fault) felt too guilty in denying my town of Miskatonic their wishes and so assumed the responsibilities of “Chief Citizen”, which consisted wholly in attending bi-weekly meetings where I’d sit in front of a room of disgruntled elderly and nod my head. This time, however, was very, very different.
           I awoke to a heavy pounding at my front door. A group of over twenty men, women and sleepy-eyed children held pitch forks, shot guns and burning torches (yes, even the children) and demanded I confront Larry the Leaf Lover at once. In their minds, he had crossed the line. Earlier that morning, he had supposedly snuck into the home of Gloria Evercocks and stuffed her mouth with leaves, suffocating her and taking her hidden fortune, which almost everyone knew was safely tucked away under her bed.
           Thus, the good people of Miskatonic cornered our no-longer harmless source of intrigue in a tree on the outskirts of town wherein he lay, limbs sprawled over bare branches screaming an unfathomable sound like the crackle and pop of a burning fire. When I arrived, he was wheezing, his chest rising and falling like the loss of great empires, and the crowd at the base of the maple had tripled in size and commotion despite the early morning hour.
           With the loudest sound my frail body could muster, I commanded the people to return to their homes and as they left, proceeded to climb, slowly, up the leafless tree until I was merely, finally, a few feet from the face of Miskatonic’s one and only legend in the making.
           “Hello” I said, out of breath and holding on for life and limb to the withering branches surrounding me. His head spun around to face mine and for once I could glimpse at his languid visage. I could not, however, make out any readable emotion for there were no facial features to speak of, rather, two black pits housing two shiny miniature pinballs that couldn’t agree what to look at. Perhaps it was the early morning lighting, but I swear he looked to me to have no nose, no mouth, and instead layered over with a dirty lizard skin.
           “Where’s the money?” I asked, growing more uncomfortable the longer I was forced to examine this nightmare of a being. “They just want the money, they’ll probably-” but before I could even finish uttering my plea, his eyes revolved around the sockets to hone in on my own.
           That’s when I knew. Within seconds, I understood. This was no man. The light within his eyes housed an eternity of creation and death. I could see the screaming, horrified faces of a million men, the shaking withering hands of Gloria Evercocks giving sweet candy to children on her porch. I saw an
acorn grow old and get chopped down and stamped with ink and hailed as truth by a preacher on the street. I saw countless leaves rise from the earth and return to their branches but somehow I knew, as if Larry the Leaf Lover were on the other side of some vast mirror, that he himself did not see these visions. And he was afraid. Shaking, he reached out his leathery husk of a hand.
           “Nature knows no hate, but the reflection makes it so” and then he collapsed into a pile of sticks and leaves, the wind drifting his memory out of the tree and down the empty street. His foot-tall black top hat toppled down the branches and smacked the bricks below.’
           ‘You do realize you are under oath?’
           ‘You asked me for the whole story, from the beginning, and I swear by God and by my soul, this is what I know to be true.’
           The out-of-town investigator paced around in a circle, pausing briefly to glance at the massive mob of Miskatonic behind him, huddling shoulder to shoulder, thirsty for blood in the tiny courthouse. From the corner of the room, I saw the Mayor nod and immediately after- the supposedly “just” and “equitable” investigator turned back to me with eyes full of hate.
           ‘Where is the money?’

NELSON VICENS

 

Copyright Ⓒ 2017 Nelson Vicens